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Mind Games: Intelligence Reform and the Next 9/11

December 7, 2004

After much grandstanding by members of its Republican majority, the House of Representatives passed the intelligence reform bill on Tuesday. The Senate's OK and President Bush's signature should be forthcoming in short order.
With many of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations soon to be law, Americans will now rightly ask if reform will really help prevent another major terrorist attack here at home.
The short answer is "yes, but only if."
The long answer is that the revamped National Intelligence Directorate can help make the United States less vulnerable to attack, but only if Americans in general, and the American national security establishment in particular, learn the lessons of 9/11 and the nature of the conflict and enemy we face.
The work of the 9/11 Commission pointed to a wide array of factors that led to the calamity of September 11. These spanned multiple administrations and included bureaucratic stove piping across FBI, CIA, the Pentagon and other agencies, lack of information sharing, analysis and consolidation, the wall between foreign and domestic intelligence functions, and undermanned and underfunded intelligence services. For many Americans, 9/11 was the result of crossed signals, missed opportunities, and bad luck.
There is a strong argument to be made, however, that the massive national security disaster of September 11, 2001 was not primarily a failure of planning, bureaucratic coordination, or vigilance by either the Clinton or Bush administrations. Instead, the root cause of the American failure on 9/11 was psychological, or as the 9/11 Commission put it, "a failure of imagination." That is, the American national security establishment simply could not absorb, process, and filter data regarding threats so fundamentally at odds with its post-Cold War mind set and conceptual framework. Perhaps more than anything else, the U.S. disaster of September 11 can be attributed to cognitive dissonance.
For much more on this, see "Cognitive Dissonance, Terrorism and 9/11."


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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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